ZIMBABWE’S Robert Mugabe resigned from presidency last November 21, 2017, after 37 years of ruling the southern African country.
His resignation was hailed as a fitting and historic end to sheer madness and catastrophic ruin of four decades of one of Africa’s richest but now third poorest nation in the world.
The future is uncertain for Zimbabwe, a country already brought down to its knees by organised madness, mismanagement and unprecedented corruption by its rulers.
After Mugabe’s resignation, some Zimbabweans believe the country can now breathe easier after an unprecedented ‘moment of madness’.
Former vice president, Emmerson Mnangagwa who was sacked from both party and government in November 5, 2017 was nominated by the ruling Zanu PF party, in terms of Zimbabwe’s constitution to replace Mugabe as president.
For Zimbabwe, the month of November was dramatic, interesting and revealing. Mugabe’s resignation and ultimate downfall came as a welcome surprise and relief across Zimbabwe and beyond. All along Mugabe was regarded as Zanu PF’s darling and would have run for president again come 2018.
Mugabe’s resignation came in the aftermath of a “soft” coup carried out by the Zimbabwe Defence Forces (ZDF) November 14, 2017, which maintained it was carrying an operation codenamed Operation Restore Legacy.
The military was careful not to brand its exercise a military takeover because they are aware of the opposition, which could come from African Union, SADC and so on. It had to make the exercise look like a clean-up of corrupt and power-hungry elements who, from their view, were threatening to take over the country and perpetuate an untenable economic, political and social order on unprecedented human suffering of Zimbabweans.
Following this intervention, a week of negotiations between the then president, who detained at his home, and the military on the way forward took place. At the same time, Zanu PF also emboldened by the military’s acts resorted to fire Mugabe, his wife and members alleged to be the architects of the Generation 40 (G40) faction, a group of young Zanu PF supporters who were battling the old guard represented by Mnangagwa.
After what seemed to be a protracted week, Mugabe finally tendered his resignation letter to the Speaker of Parliament in terms of the provisions of Section 96 (1) of Zimbabwe’s 2013 constitution.
In that resignation letter, Mugabe insisted his decision to resign was “voluntary from my heart and arises for my concerns for the people of Zimbabwe and my desire for the smooth, peaceful and nonviolent transfer of power that underpins national security, peace and stability.”
A lot of fingers pointed at his wife, former first lady, Dr Grace Mugabe, who most people say is the reason that led to his Mugabe’s downfall. Some Zanu PF party members and members of the public blatantly labelled Grace a “Delilah who brought down Samson” while others marked her reign as an end of an “error.”
Mugabe was accused of neglecting his constitutional mandate by allowing his wife to meddle on government’s businesses and accessing classified information without constitutional authority. He also stood accused of allowing Grace to make reckless allegations against senior Zanu PF members and the ZDF.
Zimbabweans shamed the former first lady for worsening the country’s woes, dabbling into politics while leaving a small portion of blame to Mugabe and his cronies yet corruption, nepotism and patronage are the cancers that tore away at Zimbabwe’s social, economic and political fabric.
A few have argued that the military carried out the ‘internal coup’ because they were motivated by the bad blood between Grace and Mnangagwa in succeeding Mugabe and not by the country’s sick economy.
Some analysts said Grace’s ambitions to be Mugabe’s successor proved to be too much for the Zimbabwean military who favoured a Mnangagwa take over.
Others believed Grace had triggered a crisis because she wanted to grab power and have Mugabe clear the path for her by removing many people from Zanu PF.
To the military, Mnangagwa’s sacking was seen as the last straw considering that he had been Mugabe’s ally for a long time and it decided to intervene to “restore sanity” in the country.
Grace was accused of acting on behalf of G40, who were the primary target of the military officers and were the “criminals” alleged to be misleading the former president. To deny that Zanu PF’s internal struggles widened with Mugabe wanting Grace to succeed him would be premature.
The former first lady could be seen as a catalyst but this opens up debate on what it means for women in politics, how they are talked about and especially the way the former first last was perceived. Grace may have caused some rift within Zanu PF and this raises questions as to whether the old guard in the ruling party can accept a woman to take over. It is clear the war veterans did not want Grace to rise power, worse when she lacked liberation credentials.
Without shaming Grace, let us talk about the power she as a woman had amassed for herself in the party and how she was able to use that power to her advantage. When Grace’s popularity in Zanu PF was growing, party members sloganeered “Munhu wese kuna Amai” (meaning everyone should align themselves with their mother – Grace). This testified that she did have an important role in the party, alas her powers were clipped before she could reach her climax.
Who is Grace?
Leading up to Mnangagwa’s ouster and soon after, Grace was hailed as a capable politician who should lead the party based on her capability and performance. On November 5, 2017 she asked a crowd of churchgoers, “Am I not a Zimbabwean, should I not be elected? Give me the job and see if I fail.” Party members even called on the former president to appoint her vice president during the Zanu PF’s congress in December 2017.
As soon as she married Mugabe in 1996, Grace had to compete with his late Ghanaian wife Sally, who succumbed to kidney failure in 1992 but was adored by many Zimbabweans.
It increasingly became clear that Grace would struggle to rid herself from Sally’s shadow because she was dismissed as a shopping addict and was nicknamed “First Shopper” and “Gucci Grace.”
In the same vein, it cannot be denied Grace’s rise to power was seen as provocative and the criticisms against her came rather from concerns as to why she was doing it, certainly not on what she was saying.
Her public appearances sparked question about First Ladies’ roles in official capacities since she would attack a sitting vice president without batting her eyelids. Grace did not just attack Mnangagwa alone but did the same to Joice Mujuru who was fired from Zanu PF in 2014.
As a first lady, Grace was not spared criticism from both her colleagues in the party, the opposition, society and the media itself. This widespread criticism stemmed from the fact the public is unaware of first ladies’ influence over their husbands.
It should be understood that even though Grace had no official government position, but if the president, who was her husband trusts her, people who then trusted the president by voting for him should in turn have trusted his wife because he trusts her.
Illogical as it may sound, it cannot be denied a first lady can represent the President, be his spokesperson and perhaps this is what Grace was doing.
In the United States, during Bill Clinton’s campaign and presidency, his and Hillary’s insistence on her playing a large role in policy-making was not received well by voters although this indicated are first ladies were intimately involved in policy and political choices.
Grace received widespread criticism because she publicly voiced her ambition but the question to ask is would have Zanu PF or the public be happy to tolerate her as long as she had not made her ambitions obvious?
There is no doubt the public expects first ladies to play a traditional role such as hosting charity events, taking care of orphans and doing more than that is abnormal.
Yes, Grace herself has acted un-first lady like, especially when in mid-August 2017, beat up a young model whom she found with her sons in their hotel room in South Africa causing a diplomatic gaff. She had to seek diplomatic immunity from prosecution.
It is also ironic that in as much as the public expects the first lady to act as hostess and present herself as a commoner; what she wears, how she looked, how much money she spends, what her family does, what hairstyle she puts on, how many gold chains she has – all these became matters of interest to the country, especially the time Grace bought a $1.4 million diamond ring in a deal that turned sour.
There is a degree of sexism in that the public expected Grace, as a first lady to be silent on issues or act a certain way considering that she was the closest person to Mugabe, who then as a president was a powerful man and whoever whispered to him (in this case, Grace) was more powerful.
The actions of the past month have seen the public suggesting there is something criminal about the power a wife, with the often more powerful type of “emotional power” can have over a president.
At one point Zimbabweans were heard asking who really was running the country seeing Grace’s outburst and verbal attacks on government officials during rallies.
I have no doubt that if a first lady, like Grace was really running the country, was silent about it and not really loud about it there could have been some acceptance of discretion about this unaccountable degree of political power.
At the same time, the public outbursts of Grace as a first lady did rattle some people, if not most, yet some presidential spouses are known to offer their opinion and advice on politics. think of France’s president Emmanuel Macron who was groomed by his wife Brigitte Trogneux.
The past events in Zimbabwe have shown us that some want to maintain an aspect of mystique about the first couple in State House. The story of Grace teaches us that ultimately it is the unique balance of power within each presidential marriage, which determines what remains a largely covert degree of influence and power of first ladies.
Grace’s fall signifies that women in Zimbabwe, Africa and the developing world struggle to find their political footing. Female politicians face sexist and misogynist attacks such as those the former first lady has faced from men and women both in the ruling and opposition. This proves that women have a long way to go to securing positions in the presidium.
In as much as the military took it upon itself to “free” Zimbabwe from criminal elements, the army has no place in partisan politics. The army intervened in a battle between G40 and Lacoste. It chose to back Mnangagwa. This is the same army that has backed Mugabe’s stay in power and even stifled democracy after he lost the 2008 elections.
When calls mounted for Mugabe to step down, the whole of Zanu PF took advantage of the situation to settle scores. The party that is accused of being at the centre of Zimbabwe’s decay, accused Mugabe for everything yet it is part of the oppressive system that destroyed the country. To Zanu PF, Mugabe suddenly became the monster yet the party had benefited from his stronghold in power.
Zimbabweans can only hope that Mnangagwa who had been Mugabe’s long-time aide will represent a new type of leadership that will erase the oppressive system. As events unfold in Zimbabwe, new opportunities are presented for the new country’s leadership to implement the much-needed economic and political reforms for a promising future for Zimbabweans. The government should fulfil its promise to hold free and fair elections were Zimbabweans are able to vote for their preferred leaders.